Monday, January 16, 2012

What I'd tell Peter Palumbo if I was American

Required reading from JT on the Jessica Ahlquist story.

Okay. All caught up? I'm not an American, but this pisses me off. Why? Not because she's 16. Jessica has proven she is the equal of any adult out there in terms of maturity, intelligence, and bravado. Not because Palumbo is a Democrat - both American political parties are filled with idiots and assholes. Not because it's harassment or anything like that.

It's because Palumbo swore this oath:
You being by the free vote of the electors of this state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, elected unto the place of do solemnly swear to be true and faithful unto this state, and to support the Constitution of this state and of the United States; that you will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties of your aforesaid office to the best of your abilities, according to law: So help you God.
The Rhode Island State Constitution even allows for a secular affirmation. But I'm guessing the above is what Palumbo swore. And I'm damn fine with that. He can swear by whatever god he deems holy enough. Sweet. But here's the rub: he swore to defend the Rhode Island State Constitution, as well as the United States Constitution.

Rhode Island's constitution declares:
[The Constitution], therefore, declare[s] that no person shall be compelled to frequent or to support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatever, except in fulfillment of such person's voluntary contract; nor enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in body or goods.
The United States Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Here's how my letter would look:

Dear Representative Palumbo,

When you took office after you won your first election in 1994, you swore a simple oath - to uphold the Constitutions of both Rhode Island and the United States. As a legislator, I can certainly appreciate that you have many citizens to pander towards. But I find it utterly reprehensible to your good character to hear that you have utilized your platform to denigrate someone in your community for daring to exercise their right to freedom of religion in a public school.

There are few words for the sort of person this makes you. However, as I suspect you are a person who worships a God - a Christian god, undoubtedly, I would like to ask you a simple question. How would you have reacted upon finding a prayer to Allah in a school in your district? If your answer is anything other than suggesting it should stay, then you are an utter hypocrite.

Thomas Jefferson, a man who is both infinitely smarter than you and happens to be one of the authors of the United States Constitution, which you swore to your god to uphold, stated in no unclear terms that the purpose of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was to divide church and state - to ensure that no American citizen would be restricted by a federal government who preferred one religion over another, or none. Jefferson was a deist, who did not believe in an interventionist deity. In 1868 Rhode Island was the 18th state to ratify the 14th Amendment, which incorporated the First Amendment to the several states, making Jefferson's federal wall of separation an edict which all government in the Union is constitutionally required to follow. Finally, in the 1960s and 70s, the Supreme Court of the United States made several decisions determining that the use of schools to endorse in any way the belief or disbelief in a deity or religion(s) is an unconstitutional practice, and therefore, illegal.

This affected your alma mater, Cranston West High School, in a very specific way. The prayer which the brave, smart, and tenacious Jessica Ahlquist sued to have removed was originally the official school prayer. In 1962, after the Supreme Court ruled on Engels vs. Vitale, Cranston West stopped forcing students to say this prayer. It had no secular purpose originally, or it would have been excluded from this ruling. The related display was a remnant of this time, and if not illegal in 1962, it certainly became so in 1971 after Lemon vs. Kurtzman was ruled upon. Indeed, it was the Lemon test that Judge Ronald Lageux applied to the Cranston West School Prayer Mural to determine it was illegal.

As a legislator, you have a duty to accept something simple: the Constitution is the supreme law of the United States, not the Bible. The constituent governments of the United States, from the smallest school board to the entire federal level, are governed by that Constitution and Jefferson and Madison's brilliant Bill of Rights. You may not like that the West Cranston prayer is gone. But you cannot suggest it was anything other than right by the Constitution to remove it. If you do, you violate your oath of office. You slander a woman who is braver than you, craven for votes and performing special pleading on a sleazy radio talk show, could ever be. And you look at the quarter or more of your consitutants who have no religion (or a religion not based on a resurrected Jewish zombie) and tell them they do not matter.

Do the smart thing, Representative Palumbo. Apologize to Jessica and everyone who you called "an evil little thing", because she represents more than one girl in one school. Recognize what the Constitution is - your law, your duty, and your oath - and live up to those requirements. And stop being a coward who hides behind a little holy book, and be an adult who stands up for girls in his community who are receiving death threats and are being ostracized for making the Founding Fathers proud.

In other words, read the Constitution and be a real fucking American, you sack of shit.

Sincerely, Veritas

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